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How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If your Android phone or tablet isn’t acting right, or may have a virus, you should try entering Recovery mode.

Recovery is an independent, lightweight runtime environment that’s included on a separate partition from the main Android OS on all Android devices. You can boot directly into recovery mode and use it to factory reset the device, delete the cache partition, or apply software updates. That’s a bunch of geek talk for: it can help you fix your device.

Use Recovery mode to factory reset the device, delete the cache partition, or apply software updates.

You can enter Recovery mode by using the hardware keys, so it’s often a last resort for people troubleshooting a device, especially if the screen is unresponsive. Not every device has the same method, we’ll run through a couple of popular models, but you can generally find this information for every device via the relevant manufacturer or carrier website.

Related: How to completely erase everything on your Android phone or tablet

How to boot into recovery mode on a Google Nexus device

If you have a device like the Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 running stock Android then these are the steps required to boot into Recovery mode:

  1. Hold down the Power key and select Power off. If the touchscreen is unresponsive then you can simply keep holding down the Power key for several seconds until the device turns off.
  2. Press and hold the Power key and the Volume down key. You should see the Android mascot on his back, a bunch of information about your device, and Start at the top right of the screen.
  3. To navigate through the menu options you use the Volume up and Volume down keys. The Power key is used to make a selection. Press Volume down twice and you should see Recovery mode in red up at the top right, press the Power key to select it.
  4. The white Google logo will pop up followed by the Android mascot on his back again with the words No command underneath.
  5. Press and hold the Power key and the Volume up key for around three seconds and then let go of the Volume up key, but keep pressing Power.
  6. You should see the Android system recovery options pop up at the top of the screen. Use the Volume keys to highlight the options and the Power key to select the one you want.

How to boot into recovery mode on other Android devices

We aren’t going to go through every device here, but you can find this information for your phone with a quick Google search. Make sure you find the right method for your device from a trustworthy source before you start. The method to factory reset a device using the hardware keys always includes instructions on how to get into recovery mode.

Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3 (and other Galaxy devices)

  1. Hold down the Power key and select the Power off option. If the screen is frozen or unresponsive, you can hold down the Power key for several seconds until the device switches off or pull the battery.
  2. Press and hold the Power key, the Volume up key, and the Home button together. Release when you see the Samsung logo and then select the option you want from the menu.

HTC One M8

The HTC One M8 is a little different:

  1. Go to Settings > Battery and uncheck Fastboot.
  2. Turn the device off by holding the Power key.
  3. Press and hold the Volume down key and the Power key.
  4. You should see a bootloader screen where you can use Volume down to highlight RECOVERY and then the Power key to select it.

LG G3

  1. Press and hold the Power key, and turn the LG G3 off.
  2. Press and hold the Power key, and the Volume down key together.
  3. When you see the LG logo let go of the Power key and then press it again (you should keep pressing the Volume down key throughout).
  4. The menu will appear and you can use the Volume keys to highlight an option and the Power key to select it.

Recovery mode options

The options you are presented with may vary depending on your device, but there are certain standards that are always there. You can always choose from:

  • Reboot system now: This will restart the device normally.
  • Apply update from ADB: The Android Debug Bridge allows you to plug your device into your PC and issue commands from there. It’s designed for developers and requires you to install the Android SDK (software development kit). If you’re interested you can find out more at the Android developer website.
  • Wipe data/factory reset: This will wipe all of your data (photos, videos, music, apps, everything) and return the phone to factory conditions ready to be setup all over again. It will also wipe the cache partition
  • Wipe cache partition: This is temporary system data, largely related to app installations and you can delete it without losing any personal data or settings.

Custom Android recoveries

The open source community has also produced a number of custom Android recoveries that offer additional features such as backup and restore, the ability to apply updates that haven’t been approved by the manufacturer or carrier, the ability to selectively delete data, and some other bits and pieces of extra functionality. Two very popular options are ClockworkMod (CWM) and Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP).

If you want go down this route then check out our overview of how to root your Android phone or tablet first.

If you run into any problems with recovery mode, or you want to know more, XDA Developers forum is a highly recommended resource.

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